Brown, Charles Lester “Charlie”.

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Brown, Charles Lester “Charlie”, born 22-10-1922 in Weston, Lewis County, Virginia, United States,  a farm boy,  joined the USA airforce after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. After training he finaly became a pilot and flew the B-17 bomber in the 379th Bomb group  . In December, 1943, a severely battered B-17, called Ye Olde Pub   commanded by 21 year old Lieutenant.Charlie Brown, on his first combat mission, with his co-pilot, Spencer “Pinky” Luke, was heading home after a bombing mission over Bremen, Germany. His bomber had been shot to pieces by swarming fighters, and his plane was alone, struggling to stay in the skies above Germany. Half his crew was wounded, and the tail gunner was dead, his blood frozen in icicles over the machine guns. The 379th Bomb Group (H) (heavy), based at Kimbolton, flew more sorties than any other Bomb Group in the Eighth Air Force nickname‎: ‎”The Mighty Eighth” under command of the famous of  the “Doolittle Raid” on Japan, Major General James Harold “Jimmy” Doolittle and dropped a greater bomb tonnage than any other Group. The B-17 Flying Fortress Group was awarded two Distinguished Unit Citations, the first for operations across the period beginning 28-05-1943 to 31-07-1944. The second was awarded to the 1st Bomb Division as a whole for flying without fighter protection to bomb aircraft factories at Oschersleben on 11-01-1944.

Charles glanced outside his cockpit and froze. He blinked hard and looked again, hoping it was just a mirage. But his co-pilot stared at the same horrible vision. “My God, this is a nightmare,” the co-pilot said.”He’s going to destroy us,” the pilot agreed. The men were looking at a gray German Messerschmitt fighter hovering just three feet off their wingtip. It was five days before Christmas 1943, and the fighter had closed in on their crippled American B-17 bomber for the kill. But when Brown and his co-pilot, looked at the fighter pilot of the Jagdgeschwader 11 under command of Oberstleutnant Hermann Graf, again, something odd happened. The German didn’t pull the trigger. He stared back at the bomber in amazement and respect. Instead of pressing the attack, he nodded at Brown and saluted. What happened next was one of the most remarkable acts of chivalry recorded during World War Il. The German pilot Luftwaffe Major Franz Stigler

  pressed his hand over the rosary he kept in his flight jacket. He eased his index finger off the trigger. He couldn’t shoot. It would be murder. Stigler wasn’t just motivated by vengeance that day. He also lived by a code. He could trace his family’s ancestry to Knights in 16th century Europe. He had once studied to be a priest. A German pilot who spared the enemy, though, risked death in Nazi Germany. If someone reported him, he would be executed. Yet, Stigler, in his Me 262 “White 3”  could also hear the voice of his commanding officer, who once told him: “You follow the rules of war for you–not your enemy. You fight by rules to keep your humanity.” Alone with the crippled bomber, Stigler changed his mission. He nodded at the American pilot and began flying in formation so German anti-aircraft gunners on the ground wouldn’t shoot down the slow-moving bomber. (The Luftwaffe had B-17’s of its own, shot down and rebuilt for secret missions and training.) Stigler escorted the bomber over the North Sea and took one last look at the American Pilot. Then he saluted him, peeled his fighter away, and returned to Germany.

Back in Germany Leutnant Franz Stigler never spoke of his part in that aerial encounter with ‘Ye Olde Pub’ for fear of a Luftwaffe Court Martial and continued flying in combat until the end of the war in May 1945, becoming one of the world’s first fighter jet pilots flying the Luftwaffe’s incredible ME 262 nicknamed Schwalbe / “Swallow”, in combat, under command of General der Flieger Adolf “Dolfo” Galland..

Brown took on a new mission. He had to find that German Pilot. Who was he? Why did he save my life? He scoured Military Archives in the U.S. and England. He attended a Pilots’ Reunion and shared his story. He finally placed an ad in a German Newsletter for former Luftwaffe Pilots, retelling the story and asking if anyone knew the Pilot.

Charlie Brown had made it home, but the war cast a shadow over his soul. His daughter would later recall, “I remember him having terrible wartime nightmares, waking up in a cold sweat every now and again.” Yet with the PTSD came the need to track down the enemy pilot who showed such compassion.

On 18-01-1990, Brown received a letter. He opened it and read:  “Dear Charles, All these years I wondered what happened to that B-17, did she make it home? Did her crew survive their wounds? To hear of your survival has filled me with indescribable joy.” It was Stigler.

He had had left Germany after the war and moved to Vancouver, British Columbia in 1953. He became a prosperous  businessman. Now retired, Stigler told Brown that he would be in Florida come summer, and “it sure would be nice to talk about our encounter.” Brown was so excited, though, that he couldn’t wait to see Stigler. He called Directory Assistance for Vancouver and asked whether there was a number for a Franz Stigler. He dialed the number, and Stigler picked up.

“My God, it’s you!” Brown shouted as tears ran down his cheeks. After he died, through Brown’s library when they came across a book on German fighter jets. Stigler had given the book to Brown.  Both were country boys who loved to read about planes.

An inscription Stigler had written to Brow: “In 1940, I lost my only brother as a night fighter. On the 20th of    December, 4 days before Christmas, I had the chance to save a   B-17 from her destruction, a plane so badly damaged, it was a wonder that she was still flying. The pilot, Charlie Brown, is for me as precious as my brother was. Thanks Charlie. Your brother, Franz

Oberleutnant Ludwig Franz Stigler, nickname ‘Franz’ born 21-08-1915 in Regensburg, was a German fighter pilot in World War II.  His father, also named Franz, was a World War I pilot/observer. Franz started flying gliders in 1927 at the age of twelve. In the 1930s he flew for Lufthansa and was an instructor pilot. One of his most famous students was Gerhard “Gerd” Barkhorn, later Major and Jagdfliegerass.

Ludwig Franz Stigler died 22-03-2008, aged 92, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and Charlie Brown died 8 month later on 24-11- 2008, age 86 in Florida and is buried at Woodlawn Park Cemetery South Miami, Miami-Dade County, Florida.

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